ADA or ardor A Family Chronicle


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ADA or ardor A Family Chronicle

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elokuu 22, 2007, 3:49 pm

I have started reading ADA after finishing Lolita. I have been given some advise that I should read first either Pnin or Pale Fire before reading ADA. Anyone else what to comment on that.

David Perrings

elokuu 22, 2007, 3:51 pm

On page 15 of the Vintage International edition of ADA in the third to last paragraph there is a line

"Marginal jotting in Ada's 1965 hand"

is this a typo, I though i was in the 1800's.

David Perrings

elokuu 22, 2007, 3:53 pm

Pale Fire was brillliantly done, but I could't finish it. I found the narrator/poet completely loathesome.

elokuu 22, 2007, 3:56 pm

I have noticed that Nabokov likes to insert french phrases in amoungst the english sentences. Which causes me to go to the notes to look up the meaning of the words.

What exactly is he accomplishing by doing this ?

I have enough trouble with english with out dragging in foreign lanquages.

david perrings

elokuu 22, 2007, 3:57 pm

2: Not a typo. The book takes you from the late nineteenth to the mid twentieth century.

I am pretty sure I read Pale Fire before Ada, or Ardor, but I don't see why that would be necessary. And I still haven't gotten around to reading Pnin, so. Ada is great though. You must love it!

elokuu 22, 2007, 3:57 pm


Did you read Lolita ?


elokuu 22, 2007, 4:01 pm


I was afraid of that.

another question

where exactly am i in the beginning of the book, i mean location ?

What is Estoty and Canady ?


Muokkaaja: elokuu 22, 2007, 4:11 pm

You are in a parallel Earth, Antiterra. From Wikipedia (I'm copying and pasting so you can avoid spoilers):
The story takes place not on Earth but on a world called Antiterra, with a history that is different at various points. North America is mostly a part of Russia, for example, and electricity has been banned nearly since its discovery, so that airplanes and cars exist, but television and telephones (as we know them) do not. The setting is thus a complex mixture of Russia and America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Furthermore, our Earth, the real world, is a widely believed in as a sort of fringe religion or mass hallucination.

From Ada online:
"Russian" Estoty: Estotiland was a name given by early explorers to the northeastern part of North America, now northeast Labrador. Old mapmakers let it stretch as far north as their conjectured coastline ventured. Cf. John Milton, Paradise Lost, X.686: "From cold Estotiland." "Estotiland" is listed, along with Eden and Arcadia, under the heading "utopia, paradise, heaven, heaven on earth" in Roget's International Thesaurus (New York: Crowell, 1962). "'Russian' Estoty" may contain an echo of "Russian" Estonia.

"Russian" Canady: another echo of Russia's nineteenth-century settlement of Alaska; on Antiterra, Canada (spelt "Canady" perhaps to avoid a superfluous "ada") seems only a region of the United States, and has a substantial Russian component.

My best suggestion, in general, is to just sort of go with the flow while reading. The notes in the back by Vivan Darkbloom are meant to be read as well - I don't know if you know but it's an anagram of Vladimir Nabokov and part of the novel.

ETA: re location at the beginning of the book. Admittedly my memory is not what it once was, but I believe you are in somewhat New Englandy territory. Someplace where "Ada" and "ardor" are homophones.

elokuu 22, 2007, 4:24 pm


thanks for the link to ADA online, very helpfull.

I did know that Vivian Darkbloom was an anagram for Nabokov.


elokuu 22, 2007, 4:37 pm

"What exactly is he accomplishing by doing this ?"

He is making you work, as well he should. Reading Nabokov isn't a cakewalk. He wants you to be his ideal reader - his "little Nabokov" - - which, ideally, means tri-lingual, clever, and more than a little narcissistic.

elokuu 22, 2007, 4:41 pm

"little Noabokov"

now why would a narcissistic person want someone else to be the same ?


elokuu 22, 2007, 4:50 pm

Wouldn't he want a whole army? A whole race? Of course, he would.

So many reflections of perfection. A feast of intelligence, good bearing, wit, manners, pedigree...and just think of the chess games!

elokuu 22, 2007, 4:52 pm

i meant to say "little Nabokov"


elokuu 22, 2007, 7:55 pm

>8 nperrin:

Unfair, I say. You need to figure this out. It's not too easy. (For that matter, not a few reviewers missed one of the central *points* of the book, taking the very nicely printed "family tree" as the actual relationships between people.)

The Vivian Darkbloom part wasn't included in the earliest editions, I think

>4 dperrings:

Nabokov on language is a great topic, but the French at least is simple, I think—educated people know French. This is obviously the point of view of the main characters—for whom, as I remember, the prospect that someone might not be French/English/Russian trilingual is scary. But I suspect Nabokov agreed. His "obscurity" is, in my opinion, about lifting you up and getting what you can, not tearing you down. But French was not unfamiliar to 1960s readers of serious literary fiction.

>He is making you work, as well he should...

Agreed and not. The first few chapters are intentionally much harder than the rest. He wants you to get what you can, and to have a great deal more going on than you can see immediately and without effort.

elokuu 22, 2007, 9:16 pm

And, I think, he (VVN) has more faith in you (reader) than you do in yourself - he knows that you are taking it in on some level, and that it will reveal itself to you in due time.

I like the 'lifting up' - you must be an optimist. With Nabokov, when his hand is offered I can assume a kiss but expect a tweak - and I've felt the tweak more keenly (and often).

But, oh, those kisses!

elokuu 23, 2007, 12:19 am


Keep in mind that Nabokov's native tongue wasn't English (it was Russian). He also learned French as a very young boy. If I remember correctly, English was the third language he learned.

With that in mind, it doesn't seem so odd to see French or Russian in his English language work (by that I mean those that were originaly written in English, and not his earlier work that was translated from the original Russian).

elokuu 23, 2007, 5:24 am

Nabokov is also channeling Tolstoy whose War and Peace has lines in French. I expect Nabokov saw himself as the greatest Russian writer of the 20th century. Actually, strike "Russian" in the last sentence.

elokuu 23, 2007, 8:51 am

Would he strike "of the 20th century" as well?

I might, if it weren't for the Frenchman, and if it were limited to novels.

Nabokov's linguistic trifecta results in a refined, precise tongue: I suspect that he filters his English through his Russian and then runs it all through a finely meshed French sieve.

Or vice-versa.

elokuu 23, 2007, 1:19 pm

Could someone elaborate on Nabokov's use of 3 languages?

My impression is that it extends beyond just the three countries that he lived in.


elokuu 23, 2007, 1:27 pm

#6 Yes, read it, enjoyed it, and although Humbert wasn't a sympathetic character I could understand him.

elokuu 23, 2007, 1:28 pm

I have not read Ada or Ardor yet, but it is certainly on my list, and waiting for me in my TBR stack.
Re Nabokov's language skills and the order of learning. He spoke English first, Russian began when he was about 5, not sure where French came in exactly but if you peruse or preferably thoroughly read Speak, Memory you will find the correct order.

elokuu 23, 2007, 8:04 pm

The first line in ADA is

"All happy families are more or less dissimilar, all unhappy ones are more or less alike..."

The first line in

Anna Karenina is

'All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.'

What is going on here ?


elokuu 24, 2007, 10:32 am

What part of parallel universe are you not understanding?

No-one can walk you through Ada, we'd get lost ourselves re-tracing our steps. That's what makes it so exciting.

You are making me want to re-read it, though...

elokuu 24, 2007, 11:31 am

In reading over the annotations from ADA online, i see that there are pages devoted to just the name ADA. The annotations for the first paragraph fill up about 10 pages. I can see that it is easy to get lost in all this as well. But i do feel like i need some introduction in order to find my compass for reading this book.


elokuu 24, 2007, 11:38 am

It's a Boy Scout thing, start with a map and a compass before going on a hike.

elokuu 24, 2007, 11:55 am

And didn't some nice guide suggest an easier path, to get acclimated? Something like Pnin or Pale Fire? Try the blue blazes before the red.

elokuu 24, 2007, 12:29 pm

isn't a blue flame hotter than a red one?

elokuu 24, 2007, 12:40 pm

Well, I'm not a boy scout. And maybe my directions aren't the best to follow, anyway.

But blue is hotter, yes.

elokuu 26, 2007, 3:54 pm

I have decided to take up enevada's recommendation and read Pale File first.

So i am taking a break from ADA, while i get lost in
Pale Fire.

david perrings

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joulukuu 10, 2007, 12:35 am

hello, i dunno if someone answered your message but to explain shortly the book is presented like written by ivan and ada in their elderly years it's mean than there is bogus margin notes and thinks allegedly in the hand of ada when the"s a gran even if the story relates from preteens years onward.
sorry for the strange english, being french i'm not acing it!

good day


joulukuu 10, 2007, 9:13 am


Ma chere, si agréable de recevoir des nouvelles de vous, ma pauvre soeur. Pourquoi prenez-vous le nom de cet enfant condamné malade ?

(Et maintenant il est je qui dois s'excuser, comme je parle le français très faiblement.)


helmikuu 10, 2008, 12:25 am

I just finished reading this marvelous book. The more I read (just Lolita and Ada so far) the more convinced I am that Nabokov is the greatest 20th century novelist. His prose is orgasmic, his characters complex and compelling, his imaginings soul-searing. I know I will have to read it more than once, I'll keep it out to nibble a page or two now and then, all out of order.

There is so much going on, where does one start to work it out? Since message #30's author has taken her name, what about Lucette? enevada, you described her as "condamne," doomed, and, yes it seems that way. She never had a chance. Why did Ada seduce her? Any thoughts, anyone? That made it worse for Lucette, didn't it?

helmikuu 10, 2008, 9:20 am

Lucette makes a fundamental mistake, one that is positional in her world view. She worships Van, instead of Ada, and desires to act as his muse - to serve his ego and his writing.

Van, having drunk from the stream of Ada, is not quite so foolish, so ego-bound, to think that either he or his writing supercedes Ada or life itself. Hooray for Van, bad piece of luck for Lucette.

Does Ada seduce Lucette? Again, I think of Ada as a stream and Lucette as a pretty little plant, unfortunate in its placement.

helmikuu 10, 2008, 10:34 am

Also, Nab is making a serious moral point. Here somebody's happiness (e.g., Ada and Van's) is also intertwined with somebody's unhappiness.

Or, to put it another way, the point isn't that the world is so wonderful, or that the world is so horrible, but that it's so wonderful and horrible at the same time.

helmikuu 10, 2008, 10:45 am

Exactly. And from the horrible muck some beauty emerges - it is all of a piece.

helmikuu 10, 2008, 10:51 am

Lucette has to be my heart-breaker character of all time.

helmikuu 10, 2008, 10:57 am

Not the same scale of telling, but for me it's Myra in Pnin. Or at least Timofey's tender memories of her.

helmikuu 10, 2008, 11:06 am

I think they are all one in the same, best represented (and triumphant, finally, if you agree with Boyd's reading) in Hazel Shade of Pale Fire.

Sweet little Mother Time - she breaks mine.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 10, 2008, 12:34 pm

krolik said: the point isn't that the world is so wonderful, or that the world is so horrible, but that it's so wonderful and horrible at the same time.

Yes. VN expresses this seamlessly.

enevada, don't you account for Ada's need for Van? It is not one-sided, but you have characterized the relationship as worshiper and worshipee. While there is definitely an element of that: Ada is clearly on Van's pedestal, but I think the relationship is more symbiotic.

helmikuu 10, 2008, 12:49 pm

I see Ada and Van as mirror images - Ada the image, Van the reflection. Ada can exist without Van, Van is nothing without Ada. Lucette fell in love with both, perhaps - but there is no place - no need, for her.

I don't think Van worships Ada - she sustains him. I have always seen Ada as a free agent - she belongs to no-one, indifferent (but not callous) to all - something akin to the indifference of nature to man.

helmikuu 10, 2008, 12:52 pm

It would be foolish for Van to worship Ada, don't you think? That would be Lucette's mistake.

helmikuu 10, 2008, 2:40 pm

But he does worship her, at least that's the way I interpret his rages at finding out about her liaisons in his absence.

Re your comment that Ada is a free agent, indifferent: So, does Ada respond to Van simply because he's there and wants her? She does not "need" Van?

That's an interesting comparison: Ada as nature's indifference to man. I'll have to think about that.

helmikuu 10, 2008, 2:54 pm

Ada needs no-one.

And, yes, Van goes through some Vronsky-ish cad behavior (in his transformation from egoist to artist) before he realizes this and then settles down and gets to work.

This is just my reading - each reader has their own version of events. Some are more interesting than others, but they all stand on their own.

helmikuu 10, 2008, 3:13 pm

I don't think "Ada needs no-one." I think Ada needs no one in particular, but she desperately needs someone - at all times - to be around, holding her up on that pedestal. It doesn't matter who it is, but for Ada, "alone" is not a possible state of being.

helmikuu 10, 2008, 3:33 pm

Couldn't disagree more - now, if we want to drag Anna K. into this, and it is Nabokov himself who invites the comparison - well, yes, perhaps, but when she realizes how silly she'd been she threw herself under a train.

Ada? Never.

helmikuu 11, 2008, 11:27 am

Oh, and I hope that this goes without saying, but just in case: to disagree about a work of literature is to pay it the highest compliment. It opens the text to an enormous field of explanations, intuitions and understandings. The very best works of literature grow with each successive reading - and those of Nabokov's are particularly virulent strains. Invasive, even.

helmikuu 11, 2008, 12:24 pm

I'm am so very pleased to have intelligent people with whom to discuss this gorgeous book. Do you know how hard I would have to look in RL to find someone to talk to about this book?

I agree that Ada never would've thrown herself under a train. I don't know what VN had to say about Anna K, but I don't see Ada as having the same problems. In fact Van was the one to attempt suicide over the situation. I'm not sure I agree about Ada needing no one. A few things lend support to that view: 1) Ada was quite an unconventional woman, and even though men were desperate to be with her, the only one that really understood her and from whom she had nothing to hide was Van. Ada does suffer loneliness in his absence; 2) As a wealthy, brilliant, desirable woman who was not bound by her family to conventional mores, Ada was in a position to do absolutely anything she wanted to, and she chose to spend years nursing a husband who seemed quite unequal to her. Why? What need was she satisfying?; 3) her seduction of Lucette - and I do see it as a seduction, Lucette was easy prey, there was every reason in the world to avoid that particular liaison, especially in light of Lucette's vulnerability. What need was she satisfying there?

helmikuu 11, 2008, 12:54 pm

I'm not supposed to be here right now (on LT, that is), so keeping this short. But in answer to the question, "What need was she satisfying?" I might venture the answer, "control." I'm really just hypothesizing here, because this isn't an interpretation of the book that I'd really thought of until now, but perhaps what her dependency on others (as I see it, and expressed it in 44) has to do with being in a position of power over someone - anyone.

Just a thought. Back to Hayek. *sigh*

helmikuu 11, 2008, 12:54 pm

Here, Citygirl, a gift for you:

Are you familiar with Brian Boyd? If not, you'll want to be. I like this article for its depiction of Lucette as yet another tragic maiden of the marsh - while Ada is both celestial (Venus) and earthy (peat).

Read it, and see if it answers some of the questions you pose here. Quite possibly, it will only lead to more questions, but it is worth a shot.

helmikuu 11, 2008, 1:10 pm

#48: again, amazingly different from my perception of Ada - with whom I associate only one verb: being, not needing, not manipulating, not controlling...people are drawn to her, people need her, people seek her approval and then collapse in self-pity when she is not only unable but unwilling to pretend otherwise.

Her one genuine act of self-less love was her fidelity and care to her husband - which suggests to me that she is the only Veen - perhaps the only character in the book - who is capable of acting without self-interest in mind. She transcends the bind of ego - as does Van, eventually and with tremendous assistance from Ada, in his writing.

Poor Lucette is incapable of this, and takes the most egotistical route of all: suicide.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 12, 2008, 12:54 pm

Thank you, enevada. The article is great.

I was puzzled by Ada's marriage, staying with Andreey. I wonder if it was a self-imposed penance. Selfless love doesn't fit. Both she and Van take what they want, no hesitation, no qualms. Both blessed with healthy egos (like their parents) they go where they want and let the chips fall where they may. They don't have to clean up after themselves, so they're rather reckless. So maybe she feels (delayed) guilt over her actions, over Lucette, over the incest.

Speaking of incest, why is it that you think they did not allow their familial relationship to stop them? Would it have happened if they'd grown up together instead of meeting as teenagers?

helmikuu 12, 2008, 1:29 pm

Well, if Ardis is Eden, and Ada and Van are an alternative to Eve and Adam - they willingly accept sin without repentance, without guilt.

This doesn't make them evil, in my mind, but fully human. They embrace the fecundity of life without apology.

53Dickens Ensimmäinen viesti
helmikuu 16, 2008, 11:42 am

I read "Lolita" many years ago. Read "Pnin" a few weeks ago". Compared with them, "Ada" is very, very complex.

The important thing is: the humour. Even in the first paragraph of the whole novel Nabokov turns the beginning of Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" on its head, mocks the inadequacy of many translations into English (how can a woman possibly be "Arkadievich"?) and introduces spoof translations such as "fatherland" for "otrochestvo" which means "adolescence" ("otechestvo" is fatherland). This is a novel for people who, as with James Joyce, have a knowledge of several languages, styles, and so on. It is steeped in irony.

The French is there because the aristocracy in Russia used to speak that language, and Nabokov too spoke it pretty well (being of noble birth). Nabokov also lived in Germany for a while and spoke German. And he studied in England.

So if you want to read "Ada", a knowledge of some Russian and French helps you enjoy it more. It makes "Pnin" look like a book for children.

helmikuu 16, 2008, 4:12 pm

P.S. At the back of the Penguin edition of "Ada", the not unknown critic Vivian Darkbloom explains all the foreign expressions (Russian, French, German, etc.), the mickey-taking at the expense of the bad translators, all the intertextuality, and so on, in several hundred notes...

helmikuu 17, 2008, 6:52 am

I'm am so very pleased to have intelligent people with whom to discuss this gorgeous book. Do you know how hard I would have to look in RL to find someone to talk to about this book?

I think I'm going to pick that quote up for the blog... However, in this context, it might be worth saying "in antiterra or terra."

helmikuu 17, 2008, 6:58 am

It makes "Pnin" look like a book for children.

Pnin is much more complex than it seems at first. It's got structural complexities that really make the head spin, and to do that without seeming complex strikes me as the greater feat.

helmikuu 17, 2008, 12:00 pm

it might be worth saying "in antiterra or terra."

I like that. Of course no one will get it, but who cares? People should read more Nabokov. It's easy to see why he's not on many high school reading lists.

enevada, I've been mulling over your "They embrace the fecundity of life without apology." First thing I thought of was how ironic, considering Van's sterility. The next time I read Ada I am going to be more conscious of Eden/Adam/Eve parallels. Adam and Eve had only each other. Ada and Van were not shamed through tasting the Tree of Knowledge. In fact, their lack of shame makes the relationship much easier for the reader to accept. I've been thinking about the devices VVN (as enevada calls him) used to draw us into this subject without disgusting us.

Note re Darkbloom annotations for those who have not read Ada: Nabokov added them in 1970, a year after its publication. ph/j has a 1969 edition with no annotations, but I think any recent publication will have them.

helmikuu 17, 2008, 3:48 pm

I agree that "Pnin" is complex enough. I just got the impression that "Ada" was even more complex, by comparison.

In "Pnin", apart from the rather melancholy life of the protagonist, you have plenty of humour where the Russian emigrés murder the English language in their own inimitable way. I know some Russian, so I can appreciate some of the jokes. But Nabokov is kind enough to explain, sometimes in brackets, what the joke is.

What I like about Nabokov is that he combines erudition with a wacky sense of humour - and kindness, rather than snobbery. Some learnèd authors try to blind you with science and knowledge. Nabokov is aware that not everyone has read "Anna Karenina" or knows that the words of "adolescence" and "fatherland" resemble one another in Russian. So his anagrammatic spoof scholar at the back of "Ada" helps us a great deal.

Nabokov's genius was that he learned enough of the English language to understand what we English-speakers don't know about Russia. So he knew where and when to explain.

helmikuu 18, 2008, 11:28 am

In my experience, sometimes readers are daunted by Nabokov´s erudition and react defensively, in a manner that blinds them to strands of gentleness and reading fun in his work.

He´s often the victim of a reverse snobbery.

Other times, he´s being appropriated by pedants trying to use N´s erudition in the service of a more conventional snobbery.

But that´s the problem of these readers, not the problem of the work.

helmikuu 18, 2008, 11:38 am

I have to say, I'd like to get a copy with the annotations in the back now. I did fine with all the French, luckily, but I have no knowledge of Russian and am a little bummed to know that I missed some of his word-game fun. Of course, this way when I go back to read it a second time, there'll be plenty that's new and still waiting for me to discover :D

helmikuu 18, 2008, 12:42 pm

I find his erudition exalting. It's like a little muse inside of me responds and urges me to become more intimate with language and its possibilities. Sure some of it is over my head, but how do you learn anything if you don't reach over your head?

lokakuu 20, 2013, 10:32 pm

This will be my second Nabokov novel, after having read Lolita. I also read a couple of his short stories along the way. Not sure what to expect from this notoriously challenging novel.

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 18, 2013, 2:17 pm

Ada is certainly dense and wonderfull and unique but that section on the texture of time is excruciating.

To bring Brian Boyd up again, Nabokov's Ada: The Place of Consciousness is excellent. Not sure where I found a hardcopy but seek it out if you enjoyed this book.

Pnin impressed me in a way other works by Nabokov haven't. Whoever made the comment about the loathesome characters, Pnin then is your man...

Wasn't Ada composed in Switzerland? Perhaps that accounts somewhat for the increased use of French, being in contact with it's also interesting to note that Nabokov's grave states "écrivain" underneath his name.

marraskuu 16, 2013, 8:28 pm

The characters abundant use of French is reflective of the Russian aristocratic elite, who also spoke in French.

Hey, Dan, I'm holding an Ada Roundtable on my blog. If you would like to join, I'd be honored. I'll have to find Nabokov's Ada, looks promising.